Generations Now, a publication from The American Society on Aging, featured Connected Horse this month, Horse Whisperers Connect Care Partners and People with Dementia.
The November/December issue of Horses Illustrated features Connected Horse in a story about how equine-assisted therapy is helping the ever-growing number of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Read the full story!
Listen to “The Healing Power of Horses for Those Living with Dementia” on Spreaker.
by Michelle Deppe
According to a late 19th-century adage, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” This, essentially, is the basis of therapy offered through workshops by Connected Horse, an effective human and animal interaction program that provides inimitable benefits both to those diagnosed with early-stage dementia and their care partners.
Never have such programs been more relevant. The World Health Organization reports that there are 50 million people with dementia worldwide, with 10 million new cases each year. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, accounting for 60% to 70% of cases. The Alzheimer’s Association reported in 2019 that an estimated 5.8 million Americans have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia.
For Carolyn Leigh, it reconnected her with her husband, John, whose progressive dementia had begun to unravel their relationship. For Richard Allen Driver, diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, it reawakened a childhood memory and gave him hope. And for Paula Calvert and her father, dementia patient John Irwin, it was just what the doctor ordered.
“It becomes healing,” said Calvert. “I’d do it every day if I could.”
These people were brought together by Connected Horse, a nonprofit organization partnering with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Center for Equine Health and the Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Together, they are studying the effects of participation in activities with horses on people with dementia and their caregivers.
Connected Horse marries dementia expertise with a love of horses
Connected Horse was founded in 2015 by Nancy Schier Anzelmo and Paula Hertel, both horse lovers and professionals in the fields of senior and dementia care and gerontology, which is the study of aging and the problems of older people. Their nonprofit is committed to the belief that horses and horse activities can provide humans with valuable insights into the human healing process and purpose.
“Equine therapy has helped so many other populations,” said Schier Anzelmo. “Why couldn’t it help people with dementia and their caregivers?” The concept made sense to Claudia Sonder, a veterinarian at the Center for Equine Health.
“We are meeting a societal need,” she said. “We can collaborate and try to create a program where horses would have relevance in today’s society. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.”
Dementia affects about 50 million people worldwide, and is expected to reach 82 million in 2030. Unlike other global health priorities, dementia itself is not a disease. It is a term describing symptoms such as a decline in memory and other thinking skills severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for over half of all cases, followed by vascular dementia. It’s a condition with no cure, whose causes are variable and still under research. Those with dementia are not the only ones affected by its symptoms.
“When a loved one is affected with Alzheimer’s disease, it creates a lot of stress on their family, particularly their primary caregiver, which is usually their spouse but can be an adult child or somebody else, even, in the family,” said Dr. Sarah Farias, an associate professor of neurology at UC Davis. “And so one of the aims of the program is to facilitate communication between the person with dementia and the caregiver and then also to help alleviate caregiver stress.”
The Connected Horse Project offers pioneering equine-assisted workshops for people living with early stage dementia. It is kicking off 2018 by partnering with Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center to offer two new four-week workshop sessions. The workshops are based on the success and popularity of a pilot program conducted in fall 2017 with Xenophon.
ROCKLIN, CA (January 26, 2018) The Connected Horse Project offers pioneering equine-assisted workshops for people living with early stage dementia. It is kicking off 2018 by partnering with Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center to offer two new four-week workshop sessions. The workshops are based on the success and popularity of a pilot program conducted in fall 2017 with Xenophon.Read the Press Release
Connected Horse, a leader in equine assisted interventions for people affected by dementia, has wrapped up its 2017 Equine Assisted Workshops and research at University of California, Davis with promising results. Over the course of two years, over 70 people have participated in the research workshops and its community programs. The unique approach of both people with early stage dementia and their care partners participating together has proven to be a powerful tool for participants. The overall whelming response has been that experiencing something new together is exciting and it helps erase the roles and old patterns. The horses have unconditional acceptance and don’t judge people by a label or a diagnosis.
Longtime California friends Nancy Schier Anzelmo and Paula Hertel were already specialists in elder care — and both avid equestrians — when they developed a bold idea. They wanted to combine their unique interests to improve the lives of people facing dementia. The result from these friends, after a great deal of study, is Connected Horse, a series of facilitated workshops aimed at helping early-stage dementia patients and their care partners experience what the women call a horse’s healing presence.
“As equestrians, we know there’s a very real healing presence about horses,” Anzelmo wrote on their blog. “After a bad day, all we have to do is go out in nature, ‘be’ with our horses, relax, and just feel better. There are in-depth studies of the effects of equine work on the stress hormone cortisol, mostly with adolescents, which show [that] with horse therapy, there’s an almost immediate drop in cortisol levels.”